TRADE union chiefs in South Yorkshire have warned of a summer of discontent - with ‘a sustained campaign of industrial action’ possible over planned changes to state employees’ pensions.
Chris Jenkinson, Sheffield-based regional officer for Unison which represents thousands of council workers around the county, raised the prospect of strikes if negotiations between the Government and unions break down.
Relations between the two sides have soured after Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, spoke out before talks had concluded.
In a speech, he said there was a ‘clear and compelling case’ for raising the retirement age to 66, increasing pension contributions and moving from final salary to career average schemes.
Sheffield MPs have made pleas for calm.
But Mr Jenkinson said: “If there is no agreement with the Government on pensions, we may be in a position to undertake a national ballot of all council staff for a sustained campaign of industrial action through the summer.”
His warning comes as up to 3,000 Sheffield teachers are to due strike next week over pensions as part of a national day of action on Thursday, June 30.
The walk-out will involve 800,000 workers nationwide - with one union leader forecasting the day willl be just a ‘sneak preview’ of widespread action to come in the autumn.
The same day, members of the Public and Commercial Services Union, who work in Government departments based in Sheffield, the University and Colleges Union, and Doncaster Council staff are set to walk out.
The strikers are holding a march through Sheffield city centre before a rally outside City Hall at 1pm.
It follows a strike which has already taken place by Unison members at Sheffield University over pension changes.
During the strike on June 30, around 2,500 members of the National Union of Teachers are set to stay away from classes, with hundreds of members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers also taking part.
Members of the third major teaching union, the NASUWT, have so far opted to continue negotiations with the Government rather than hold a strike ballot.
Schools have been told by Sheffield Council to stay open wherever possible, but headteachers will have to take decisions individually on how many classes can continue normally.
Toby Mallinson, joint divisional secretary of the Sheffield NUT branch, said 98 per cent of those voting in the ballot had called for a strike.
He said: “There is no doubt that every school in the city will be affected. I believe June 30 is likely to be just a sneak preview of what is to come - the mood is already one of anger and it extends way beyond pensions to other current issues in education.”
Sheffield South East Labour MP Clive Betts said: “I’d like to see all concerned carry on negotiating - without coming to any decisions. Danny Alexander’s speech hardly builds up a feeling of trust, while I’d advise the unions not to look at strikes until the negotiations have finished.”
Sheffield Central Labour MP Paul Blomfield added: “The Government needs to negotiate, not provoke.”
Sheffield Council’s Labour leader, Coun Julie Dore, added: “I believe in the right to strike but I have every faith the unions will negotiate before taking industrial action.”
Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “It is important people keep clear heads. Everyone agrees there needs to be change and the ideas mentioned by Danny Alexander were from a report drawn up by the former Labour secretary of state, Lord Hutton.
“We will take the time to carry on talking to the trade unions so reforms are made on a collaborative basis.”
A Sheffield Council spokesman stressed only two teaching unions are taking action next week, and that teaching assistants and other teaching unions are not affected. The council expects schools and services to be open.
“This is a national dispute over which Sheffield Council has no control,” he said. “At this stage the council is awaiting the outcome of Government negotiations with the trade unions.”
Changes to public sector pensions scheme have been recommended because retired people are living longer and there is not enough money being paid into the scheme to cover costs.